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Lockdown Reflections – The Diary of an Art Teacher

As we dive headfirst into online learning again this year, we caught up with Mari Hughes, our inspirational Art teacher to talk about the last Lockdown and how this time, although teaching online has evolved, staying connected to the pupils and their creativity is more important than ever.

Miss Hughes explains how last March, she and Head of Department, Mr. Scarff altered the curriculum in order to engage with and support their students during the most turbulent and confusing period of their lives. During times of great change, conflict or strife, the arts have recorded not only historical events, but have been means through which artists have expressed emotion and sentiment.

With this in mind, they both altered their curriculum to engage students at home, introducing them to different artists and encouraging them to replicate that particular style. As well as this, they thought of ways to get the students moving: searching for subjects and objects to use in their art.

“With still life tasks, we encouraged students to select everyday objects that could be found inside the house. We also used our own artwork as examples. This is something that we don’t often have the time to do while we are in class, but they needed visuals, so Mr Scarff and I prepared our own examples to show in Teams. In school, there is always so much going on that our students don’t often see our work or see us as artists, so I think their perspective of us as teachers also shifted.”

Their classes did projects around everyday objects, photography work, alphabet photography, and collage work, finding things that they could use from around them. Pupils loved the pareidolia work that Mr. Scarff set – this is altering your perception and using your imagination to see shapes in clouds, or faces in inanimate objects. They encouraged our students to go on scavenger hunts for materials to use in their artwork and to inspire them.

When focusing on Art History, they encouraged the pupils to start looking at things in a different way. While looking at iconic images, they shared the images that had become iconic to them personally:

“Mr. Scarff’s iconic images were the Autobahn 1980’s album cover, Mark Neville’s The Firing Range and the poster for Mon Oncle by Jaques Tati. The album cover is a vivid image from his youth. He remembers being struck by how young the soldiers were in Neville’s photograph which was the very reason that he took the picture. The film is one he loved and so the poster to him has become iconic. Mine were the Very Hungry Caterpillar (once again a happy image recollecting the joys of childhood), Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon by Storm Thorgerson (I remember this album cover from my dad’s CD collection), and Steve McCurry’s Afghan Girl that appeared on the cover of the June 1985 National Geographic. This image stays with you when you see her. It’s her eyes – it’s like she’s looking into you. It was so interesting to then see the iconic images that our pupils shared with us. It was revealing to understand what was important to them.”

Mr. Scarff's Iconic Images

Miss Hughes' Iconic Images

For Mr Scarff and Miss Hughes, the focus was trying to build their students up to think more for themselves. To build their own opinion about their surroundings and to think about what they are looking at. Maybe also to take a little pause in time and think about noticing things that they wouldn’t necessarily look at because they had that time to do it.

For some pupils who produced so much amazing work, it was a kind of routine and therapy to get them through what was going on.

“I hope we gave them what they gave us. As a department, Mr. Scarff and I really had to put our heads together, speaking all the time and supporting one another with our ideas. The schemes of work were a joint creation. We were both responsible for adjusting the schemes to fit in a situation that had no precedent. There were some things that worked really well and that I would like to bring into the classroom. At the time, we didn’t know how they would respond and just focused on ideas that we believed would support and inspire. We are focusing in the same encouraging way during this Lockdown which seems more difficult for everyone somehow.”

A selection of Mr. Scarff's Lockdown Art

Conscious that in their world, school means so much, not just for their academic studies but socially as well, they encouraged their students to share their art with one another. Mr. Scarff and Miss Hughes stayed in touch every day and were astounded by the work that their students were sharing.

“For some of our pupils, we are privileged to see flashes of how they see the world in a different way.”

The tasks set made the students look at themselves and through the art they produced, they were asked to look at things that they don’t necessarily see or notice in everyday life. Fully aware of how anxious the children were their teachers encouraged them to participate in methodical activities like sketching or shading to focus their minds.

“This really helped our students to relax and think positively. This time around, although it’s harder, the focus is still there, and our pupils are continuing to amaze us. It was and is a joy for us. They keep us going as well. It is lovely to see their work. We were so grateful to have the pupils back for the Autumn term that we don’t think we have yet celebrated what they achieved during that time in the first Lockdown, never mind the second.”

Together, they have thought about producing a St David’s College Lockdown book to celebrate the creativity that was produced by our students. Maybe including DT, Art, and poetry leaving open meanings and allowing people to make their own interpretations. And now we almost have a second volume to share as the work created in this second bleak winter Lockdown has once again exceeded their expectations.

Talking about one of her A-Level students, Miss Hughes explains how Molly O’Leary used her time in Lockdown to explore her artistic ability in new and exciting ways, trying different techniques and media:

“The work that Molly did during Lockdown was just phenomenal. She exceeded my expectations. Rather than just giving up and accepting the grade that she was awarded, she used the time to develop new medias. She pushed herself and kept on producing.”

Will Rutherford, a year 8 student in the last Lockdown, also worked hard on developing new skills:

“Will just kept sending me his work. Every piece is unique and inspiring. I know that Will is a talented artist and anyone seeing his work for the first time would struggle to believe it to have been created by someone so young. Even so, I am still amazed by every piece that I see. Every time. His artwork just sings.”

Miss Hughes also talks about Bella Russell who seems to have developed the maturity to communicate sentiment and meaning within her artwork:

“The eye that she sketched – there was something about it that stuck with me. Like she is - like you are - looking into something. I felt that there was a deeper meaning behind the actual artwork. She took what we taught her and produced something from within herself.”

Miss Hughes suggests that we speak to some of her students who have been dedicated to developing their different media skills this past year:

“I think hearing our students’ perspectives on how their artwork has helped them to cope with everything that is happening in the world will be very interesting and encouraging for anyone, especially for other young people.”


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